creative writing and anxiety

Creative Writing and Anxiety

A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend about the intense anxieties I get at night over the safety of my family. He said, “Yeah, that’s the curse of the artist, your active imagination.”

And after making thousands of connections in my creative writing, I finally made this one with my own life. What do we do in creative writing if not make surprising and unlikely connections (especially writing science fiction and poetry)? And the more I exercise the connection-making beast, the more easily it goes to work on my own life, especially at night when all the other noises of the day die down.

To be fair, imagination can bring you positive vision as well as anxiety. Yes, I worry over the worst possible scenarios, and believe me, imagination can create some nearly ridiculous and impossible scenarios. I also have grand (sometimes impossible) dreams of the future. And after a few years, neither of these will please your spouse.

Anxiety can be difficult to live with, but I’ve come to believe that someone has to be the worrier. Someone has to stay up at night thinking through these possibilities, so you’re not blind to the evil of the world. But it’s also good to have a partner or friend who can help you balance these fears with reality.

And as much as I believe in the capacity for evil among us, I believe in the possibility that our better natures will prevail too.

Let’s Grow Our Poetry Culture

I’m interested in helping poetry to become popular again. I’m not referring to slam-style poetry (which I value), nor am I including the Instagram poets (which I consider trite; sorry guys). I want to see a renewal of non-academicians attending poetry readings. I want to see people discussing poetry in everyday conversation, without someone flinching or grimacing. On the flip side, I’m not naive enough to think we’ll be rivaling film and television. People are still going to flock to the latest Avenger movie (the market power of the Marvel franchise is an entirely different discussion, in fact). But I do think it’s reasonable to expect a poetry revival of sorts.

People need to be taught how to read and experience poetry again. Is something going wrong in the schools in this regard? (I’m not sure.) While I don’t want to see a dumbing down of poetry, I do think the art form can be made more accessible by better educating potential readers. There is so much to be gained by a renaissance in poetry’s popularity. Poetry is not only fuel for the soul, but it quietens the mind and heightens one’s sense of observation and critical thinking. Couldn’t we use a little more of that?

Talking Books at North Texas Book Festival

This past weekend, I attended the North Texas Book Festival and had the pleasure of interacting with new readers and fellow authors. These are always some of the best conversations.

The North Texas Book Festival is held annually in Denton, Texas. Home to the University of North Texas, Denton supports a vibrant cultural life of arts, music and literature. The morning of the festival, a big thunderstorm rolled through. Authors like myself dashed from our cars with our carts of books, signs and giveaways, hoping to get  it all safe and dry to the venue. The rain kept many away in the morning. But as the sky cleared, festival traffic picked up, and I had the chance to meet with some of the local book nerds.

All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to be back in Denton next year.

A Return to My First Love, Poetry

Although I am proceeding steadily with preparing the next two chapter books for publication, in the last few months, I have begun again to pursue my first passion – poetry.

I have been writing and reading in this area a great deal. I’ve read anthologies and journals, as well as books by Mary Oliver, Michelle Mathees and Galway Kinnell. I read through Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook twice, which is full of inspiration, and I am halfway through Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, which is more comprehensive. Both are marvelous books for opening up the nuances of what it means to read and write poetry, although the authors come at it from decidedly different perspectives. Fry, an English actor and accomplished author, is much more of a traditionalist when it comes to meter. And his arguments for form in poetry, though perhaps not altogether in current “fashion,” are hard to ignore. That’s not to say that Oliver advocates against form, but it’s clear that she is much more accepting of free verse.

Although I’ve experimented recently with syllabic verse, Fry has now introduced me to the idea of accentual verse, originating from Old English poetry, that focuses on the number of accents only (and does not concern itself with the number of unaccented syllables).

I’m also a big fan of slant rhyme in poems, especially when both words do not come at the end of lines and when not overdone. For me, it imparts just that right level of musicality without being downright chant-like. Fry encourages poets to “not draw attention” to the rhyme.

I fear that some modern poets are losing the rhythm that is so much a part of good poetry. In some ways, we have become better image crafters, but that cannot be all a poem is. This point, perhaps, bears an entire blog post by itself.

For my own poetry work, I have been rather productive, creating and revising almost every day. All of which brings me immense pleasure. I have said often that writing creatively is one of my greatest joys. I marvel that I don’t always find the time for it.

Mary Oliver wrote in A Poetry Handbook that she routinely revises her poems 41 times each! I have found this illuminating and encouraging, although I’m still probably only revising around five times a piece. Like most art, the complexity that makes a piece so interesting comes through in its layers. It is through revision that we create these layers, these levels, of meaning, nuance and imagery.

Author Fair at Richardson Public Library

This past Saturday, I had the chance to meet with local readers, fans and other authors at the Author Fair put on by the Richardson Public Library. Library fairs are the best because attendees are interested in one thing — books. As you might guess, I could talk all day on that very subject.

In addition to meeting with several terrific area fans and readers, I spoke with some fascinating authors, such as TJ Xia (can’t wait to read his super well-researched book on creativity and innovation), T.D. Walker (looking forward to her book of science-fiction poetry next year) and Diane Cobalt (writer of successful suspense trilogy Fatal Impact). I also picked up several new ideas for marketing and author networking.

If you’re in the area and you missed the Richardson Library’s first author fair this year, look for it next year. I plan to be there with a new book or two to share with you.

Children’s Science Fiction Writer to Attend Dallas Book Festival

I’m more than excited to be joining the 30 regional writers attending the Dallas Book Festival on April 7. I’ll be signing and selling my three science-fiction books for kids. So, if you’re in the area, please stop by and say hello. Ask me questions about my current books or try to pry information out of me concerning the three new books I have planned for later this year. If you see this blog and tell me at the festival, I’ll give you two free bookmarks and a 25% discount.

I’m not the only reason to attend the Dallas Book Festival, of course. T J. Erik Johnsson Central Library is probably the coolest in the metroplex. The unique architecture will intrigue, and they actually have a copy of Shakespeare’s first folio worth at least a cool million.

This free event includes story time, author discussions, book signings and musical performances. If you click on the “Festival Marketplace” link, you’ll see bios of the exhibiting authors, including me.

Location: J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young Street Dallas, Dallas, Texas
Date/Time: April 7, 2018, 9am – 5 pm

Children’s Home Library – Encouraging a Love of Books in Children

While I think eBooks are a terrific development in literature, there’s nothing quite like the feel of a book in your hands. And there’s nothing quite like collecting those fantastic boxes of wonder and opportunity in your very own home library. And why shouldn’t our kids get in on the fun?

A children’s home library doesn’t have to be fancy, nor does it need be over-stocked. But when you show interest in helping your child set up his own library, you’re also communicating the importance you and your family place on books. Here are some ideas to make your children’s home library more organized, inviting, attractive and useful.

Setting up Your Children’s Library

For starters, your child’s home library doesn’t even need to be a bookshelf. It can be a crate or a basket or one of those cubicle cubes.

First, let’s consider if there is a place close to our library to curl up with a great book. Ensure there’s good lighting for those little reading eyes. Try furnishing this little nook with a beanbag or maybe a big pillow with a blanket. Make it inviting.

Organize Those Books

Get your child involved by encouraging her to organize the library with you. Certainly, if he’s passionate about it, he can even do it by himself. Feed her suggestions, as needed. Your child’s participation in the process will mean she’s more likely to keep that library organized and to use it.

Here are some ways you and your child may choose to organize the books, but I’m sure you can think of more:

  • Organize by color. If you have a lot of differently colored spines, this can be an enchanting way to beautify that space.
  • Organize by type of book (non-fiction, fiction, science-fiction, sports, science, history, etc.) Perhaps include a “to-be-read” section too.
  • Organize alphabetically by title or author.

If you want, you can even create section markers from poster board. Use several different colors of poster board, cut to appropriate size and write a vertical label along one side. Consider laminating the marker for great durability.

Maybe you have room for a display area where the child can prop up their favorite books.

You’ll also want to consider rotating out books that your children have outgrown. These can be donated or shared with friends with age appropriate children. And for those special books with which you don’t wish to part, save them in a storage area for the next generation (hoarders unite!)

Here are some great ideas for children’s home libraries that other people who are not me have dreamt up:

That One Thing: Do it With Style, Writer

Last night, as I read Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem and felt myself in the grips of his imaginative world, I was struck by all the different ways writers can grab you in a story. While there are certainly formulas many writer often follow to tell a good story, I think the best thing a writer can do is to write toward his unique strengths. Cixin certainly has a knack for turning hard science fiction into easy-to-follow concepts that are natural extensions of the story, but he’s also created a fascinating world, a world that he reveals masterfully and at a pace that keeps the reader thoroughly engaged.

But I can be equally caught up in the way another writer crafts characters or dialogue, or crafts sensory descriptions, or plots cliffhangers and plot twists. And of course, two different writers can do those things very differently, but both well. For example, my favorite modern author, China Miéville, like Cixin, has a penchant for masterful world-building. But his style of exposition is vastly different from Cixin’s. For one thing, it’s full of delicious adjectives and a laundry list of visual and sensory details. And yet, I’m in love with both of their writing.

I had a fiction writing professor once who said that he could teach us technique but not style. I’ve certainly found that to be true (even though defining style is a bigger task in itself). A writer has to find his or her own style. We borrow ideas and learn from what has come before us, certainly. But at the end of the day, an artist has to explore what makes them an artist. What is it that you have to say that’s different than the next guy? Or how do you present it differently? Find that one thing and do the hell out of it. Be the best at that one thing.

30s Pulp Adventure for Kids

I’m excited to announce that I just released my 3rd sci-fi chapter book! Check out Squint & Rocket on Amazon.

This 1930s pulp adventure features zeppelins, lost treasures of ancient civilizations and two squabbling partners – the gentlemanly Englishman Captain Ishmael Squint and the rough and rude American Rashomon Rocket. With all their bickering, it’s a surprise they get anything done. And with their dangerous rival Henrich von Schnitzelwisen bent on world domination, there is a whole lot to get done.

Do You Have Something to Say?

A friend of mine recently asked me a seemingly small question. I was telling her about all of my creative writing projects (my children’s books, novels, short stories and poems), and she asked, in an intrigued tone, “So you feel like you have something to say?”

I could answer that question by rattling off all the philosophical topics I love to chatter about anytime I’m sitting across someone with nothing but coffee between us. And I could easily write a non-fiction book on just those things.

But I don’t think that’s really answering the question (for one thing, I’m not writing that non-fiction book). And I don’t think it’s such a small question after all. Certainly everyone has opinions, and at least a modicum of a unique perspective. Each of us, I believe, has something to share with our fellow humans. But do we feel that something is valuable enough to charge others’ money for it?

Part of the answer lies heavily with how we share our piece. Because that’s the art of it, isn’t it? Are we a good craftsman? Do we weave a compelling tale, or use poetic language?

But also, is our perspective well-informed? Well thought-out? Does it share a perspective sufficiently unique as to provide something new or powerful or educational?

I can only say I hope so. And I suppose that would be the honest answer, in one form or another, of most artists. We create because we are drawn to do it. I write stories and poems, because I’m feel compelled to do so and because I feel immense joy in the process.

But are the works that result things of value? It is the collision of art and audience that starts to answer that question. Even then, we are left with the question: Did the right art find the right audience?